Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 4/12/18

Beloved:

I met a man in Jerusalem whose family has been doing the same job since the 5th century. It has been passed down from generation to generation, father to son. It is a sacred obligation and is taken extremely seriously. Imagine! Being able to trace your family back to the 5th century—to know where they lived and worked, and the particulars of what they did for a living.

In case you are curious, the job that has belonged to this family for all these years, is “Keeper of the Key” to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church was founded in the 4th century by Helena, mother of Constantine. She believed it to be the site upon which Jesus had been crucified, was buried and arose. Over the centuries it was razed and rebuilt, fought over and held dear.  Eventually, there were five different Christian sects that came to share this holy space—which is likely why, the key has always been held by a Muslim family. Even hundreds of years ago, Christian leaders didn’t trust each other to share.

I can’t trace my “people” back that far. I know who my grandparents were, and even had the chance to meet my great grandparents on my mother’s side, but other than that…my “people” are just names and dates on a document one of my distant relatives put together.

The stories we are following for the next several weeks are about how the Jewish people understand who they were as people—before they were a people. Dozens of times in scripture, we read the phrase: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. God is our God, because God was their God. The beginning story of the God of the Patriarch and the Matriarchs gives a task to God’s People—they were, and are, to be a light to the nations—to bring blessing to all the world.

I have always loved these stories. These people are our people.  The stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob are equally the stories of Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah (and so on and so on and so on…) The characters are flawed. The make huge mistakes. They can be strong, powerful, faithful—and then turn around to be weak, powerless and manipulative. They can even be pretty funny. These are people we need to know, if we are going to understand who we are as the people of God in this place and time. And there is something comforting in knowing that God can use all of us—even in our failure, our betrayals and disastrous choices.

So, bring your Bibles—we are in for a whirlwind tour of our founders of the faith.

Blessings and peace, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 4/5/18

Beloved:

What a marvelous Holy Week we shared! Again, thank you, thank you to all who made such a special week happen! Wow! Christ is risen, Indeed!

This week, My Michael and I are going to trade places. I will sit in the front row and cheer him on, and he will be preaching. This gives me a bit of a break this week, and also gives Mike a chance to preach when he has had time to prepare, rather than jumping in when I am sick. So, I hope you will join me in being present this Sunday! I know you will be glad you did.

Our next sermon series will begin next week: “Bible Stories for Adults.” I love the stories we heard as children in Sunday School.  We colored pictures, sang songs, played with the main characters on the Flannel Board, did an appropriate craft, and maybe memorized some key scripture verses to remind us of the grand stories of the faith. It was fun. But, when you think about it—it was a sanitized version of the actual stories in the text—which is entirely appropriate. But I wonder—have we ever considered some of these great stories through the lens of our adult faith?

I loved these stories as a kid. And I read them for myself. Then I re-read them. They were like Steven Spielberg movies, before there were Steven Spielberg movies–they had a bit of everything—love, betrayal, violence, adventure, stupidity, and heroic deeds.   The characters—even the heroes– were flawed. They made poor decisions. They did bad things. It was sometimes unclear who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. And they really weren’t rated G.

What I would like to do in these weeks leading us to Pentecost is to look at these great stories as adults. Why are they told in this particular way? How do we understand these stories differently as adults than as children. How does our social location–our age, our race, our gender, our nationality impact how we read the story? How would earlier generations have read this story differently? We will look at some of the ways scholars have approached the texts, and see what archeologist have discovered about those who lived, worked, and raised families in a particular place and context.

I hope it will be fun. And, if there is a particular story you might want us to look at, be sure to let me know asap—I will be making the final cut by Monday afternoon. Bring your Bible to church, and join us as we explore our stories together.

See you Sunday, Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/29/18

Beloved:

Holy week always makes me feel like I am part of that old novelty act on the Ed Sullivan Show. You may remember the guy—in my memory, he was on every week—who balanced china plates on top of a spinning pole? He would get each one going, and then run back and forth along the line of plates trying to keep them from wobbling and crashing to the floor. The orchestra played the “Sabre Dance” by Aram Khachaturian during his act, and I can never hear that piece without having my heart race as I mentally dash from plate to plate to keep them from falling.

So many moving pieces, small details to get lined up, and then making sure everyone else knows what we are doing, and when. It is all worth it, though. Once everything comes together, it is simply the most wonderful week in the church year, as we retell our story together. It is THE story of our faith, just as the Passover is THE story for the Jews. There is a wonderful Jewish understanding of retelling the story. It has to do with re-membering. Each year, when the pascal meal is eaten, the story of the Exodus is told, not as something that happened to other people in the distant past, but a story that is re-lived, re-embodied as family and community. Through the darkest moments of life, the most tenuous of situations, the gathered community lives the story by sharing it together.

No wonder Jesus chose this night to provide us with the central sacrament of our Christian faith—the Last Supper. It was in the midst of this joyous, serious, messy moment of life, that Jesus shared this intimate mandate (Maundy Thursday comes from this word) that has had profound implications as we…do this in remembrance of me.

 It can be a challenge in this busy and stressful world to slow our rhythm to the rhythm of this week’s story. It is slow and fast. Joyous and devastating. Hopeful and crushing. And just as it was all these things to the early church, so it is for us as well. We live in similar times. We struggle with the same concerns as did our early forbearers.

At the very center of this week is something so small, we may not even notice it. It is the seed of God’s intention. No matter the content of the present moment, the distress all around us, the darkness that seems to be more powerful than the light—Resurrection will come.

Whether you are able to be with us in person over the next few days, or are walking the path from afar, we are God’s people in this place. And together, we prepare mind and heart for the absolutely unexpected, surprising notion that God’s love wins.

Blessings on this holy moment. Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/23/18

Beloved:

You may have noticed by now, that there are some things I approach differently than some of my pastoral colleagues. This is not a good vs. bad thing—at least I don’t think it is. It is more a choice I make out of my own experiences in life and how I understand the underlying message of the gospels. When I post about some of these choices on Facebook, I will often receive comments to point out the error of my ways. And I am okay with that. I appreciate that we are working from slightly different contexts and values. And I can live with a bit of disapproval in the service of what I think may be more important in a particular place and time. Or maybe I am just a bit of a rebel. Or maybe I just have a strange personality bent.

One of these “quirks” is the way in which I choose to look at our liturgical seasons of repentance, penitence and self-examination. For example, some traditions—like not singing “Christmas” songs until Christmas eve, or retiring the word “alleluia” during the season of Lent—until the day of resurrection. These are traditions I respect but may not choose to follow. And there are more: like how do we deal with the “secular” additions to our religious traditions? Do we cast them out into outer darkness and choose to set ourselves totally apart from cultural conventions?

Good theological food for thought. Personally, I always appreciate the paradox of being in the world and not of the world. Especially when we are trying to communicate a gospel to people who do not share the hundreds of years of tradition and practice that are so much a part of who we are as institutional church. Can they hear the story if we insist there is only one way to tell it?

We live in serious times. Brené Brown writes that every morning when we get up, we check the news so we know what to be afraid of today—and who to blame. It’s hard. It can be overwhelming. In counter-point, I would like to make a case for the need for whimsy.

Lent is a time for serious reflection. Holy week—even more so. We observe the loneliness of the story of Jesus moving toward Jerusalem and his sacrifice on the cross. Jesus stands apart from the kind of leadership the people of God have come to expect. He walks alongside the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten, the infirm. And he speaks truth to power. It gets him killed. This is heavy stuff. And, as we walk through the story this week, we will look closely at what it all means as we re-tell the events of so long ago.

But there is also another thing to keep in mind this week. In the midst of the darkest times, there are moments of light, even humor that help us to hold onto hope. One of my favorite characters created by Terry Prachett says, “laughter helps things  slide into thinking.” I believe Jesus knew how to use the absurdity of situations and the frailty of our human emotions to do just that. Take a closer look at his interactions with the disciples and antagonists this week. Jesus did this well. Hard things can be dealt with if we hold them lightly. A bit of whimsy can lighten the load. And sometimes humor can create a space to hear hard truths.

So, I invite you to walk with me through this incredibly packed week– of joy and laughter of disappointment, anger and fear. Friday we will sit at the feet of the cross. We will wait in silence on Saturday in suspense. But don’t throw out the Peeps and Chocolate bunnies—there is plenty of room at the Easter table for them as well.

Blessings and peace, my friends. Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/16/18

March 16, 2018

Beloved:

It is good to be back in the office! I’m still taking things slowly, but I am definitely on the mend after dealing with pneumonia last week. Mike has been a great nurse, but the longer I was home, the longer my list of spring chores was getting.  I have managed to re-landscape the entire yard in my imagination while looking out the bedroom window.  Mike is definitely ready to hand me over to Chris, so he can have some peace and quiet and get back to his woodworking.

It’s hard to believe that we are nearing the conclusion of Lent. This week we will be looking at perhaps one of the most difficult of our vows of membership: Witness. Just what did we sign up for when we agreed to this one?

For me, and perhaps many of us, the word “witness” or “evangelism” may conjure images of street preachers, or being confronted with a sincere stranger demanding to know whether or not we have been “saved.” One of the conflicts between mainline and independent evangelical churches over the last hundred years or so, is how we understand the nature of salvation. Are we talking about what happens after we die? Is salvation a kind of fire insurance to save us from a distressful afterlife? Or is salvation about how we are invited to live in the present?

As I write these words, I have to confess that many other words have been written, and then deleted from this page. Or as a former professor used to say, “much ink has been spilled…”  I have pages and pages of notes about how to talk about the idea of salvation and witness. It is muddy territory. It is particularly obscure in our time. We have been quietly converted by decades and decades of a certain strain of evangelicalism in the US to a theology that is not biblical– it is, however, pervasive. So pervasive, in fact, that we don’t realize that some of the theology that has become normalized as ancient truth, has actually only been around for a couple of hundred years.

If we are able to “set aside” some of this cultural confusion, perhaps we can separate out what God is calling us to be and do, from the cultural expectation of evangelism and witness.

We are asked to something that is far simpler that we would imagine. We are asked to tell the story. It is a story that doesn’t come with a club. It is a story of grace. It is a story of changed lives. God’s story is about relationship—with human beings—you, me!  Salvation is right now! The story we are given to tell is good news. Of love. Of forgiveness. Of abundance. Of justice. Of mercy. Compassion. Unconditional acceptance. Of power to transform the world around us. We are all part of the story.

We tell stories all the time. Stories that we feel compelled to tell—we can hardly wait to “give witness” to finding a new restaurant, a good book that has changed the way we think, an excellent massage therapist, or the new car we just bought, the excitement of the latest grandbaby.  Just think how easy it is to tell those stories!

To witness, beloved, at least in my understanding, is to be willing to share the beauty, the grace, the power of what God is doing in the present moment. The ancient stories are important, they are powerful. They have much to teach us.  But what is God doing right now? What God moments do we see each day? And don’t we want to share that abundance, that joy, that mystery? Sounds pretty compelling to me. Can I have a witness?!

I am looking forward to being with you in person this Sunday. Blessings and peace, my friends.

Pastor Nancy

Weekly Note from the Preacher Woman, 3/2/18

Beloved:

Text from Chris:  Did you send me the Preacher Woman weekly note? I have the newsletter article, but I can’t find the weekly note.

Text from Pastor Nancy: Well, I had it nearly finished…and then I got interrupted…and then when I got back to it, it no longer felt right, so….

Earlier in the week, I got on a roll with my writing. It felt like the words were spilling out so quickly that all I had to do was type fast and let ‘er rip. I love it when that happens! Ideas, creativity, images, metaphors—spilling out and over the page as quickly as I can scoop them up and put them on the page! I would love it if I felt that way every day. It is exhilarating, and one of my favorite experiences in my life as a writer. But it doesn’t happen all the time. At least, it doesn’t happen all the time for me. And then there are times like this week—when I was in the zone—that sweet spot where it is all working, and my fingers are flying—and then life happens.

By the time I got back to what I was working on, I no longer felt the fire. I re-read. Tried adding some sentences. Delete. delete. delete. Start again. Wrote some more. Rearranged a paragraph. Delete. delete. delete.

When this happens, I know it is time to step away. It feels very much like when I am peeling an egg and the shell will not come off in big pieces, but shatters into tiny little islands of shell that I have to remove piece by piece. Even then, I may destroy the smoothness of the cooked egg white. Painstaking. Irritating. Maybe I don’t want deviled eggs anyway. I think I will just make a sandwich.

I could give up, and just tell Chris “I got nothin’.” And sometimes that is okay. But the thing is—I do got somethin’! Lots of somethins’! So, I sit with the blank page of the screen, and I wait. I watch the blinking cursor. I write. Delete. delete. delete. And I write some more. Delete. delete. delete. And, this morning I have the added blessing of Mike bringing in more coffee as needed. Drink coffee. Write more. Delete. delete. delete.

(Now watch, as I make this silliness into something…)

This week we are talking about Gifts. Such a familiar comforting word. I love receiving a gift that someone has spent some time thinking about. I love giving gifts even more. And as a follower of Jesus, I love the idea that when we give of our resources in love and intention. But that is only a small portion of what this word means when we consider what it is we have signed up for when we promise our “gifts” to one another. Gifts are not just the things we give to make sure ministry happens. Part of it? Oh yes! An important part. Gifts are also those abilities and passions we receive from the Holy Spirit so that the work of God happens in the world. We often mistake spiritual gifts for natural ability. But think about it. A spiritual gift is one given by God for the good of the community and world. It may be something that comes once and then is gone. It may be something that no one in their wildest imagining could expect. AND we all have them. And WE all have them. And we ALL have them. And we all have THEM.

They may come in a storm of passion, creativity, excitement and joy. Or it may feel like peeling that stupid egg. But no matter how it comes, we know from whom it comes. And I can’t wait to think about it together. See you Sunday. Blessings, Pastor Nancy.

P.S. Still working on the one I started. Will let you know.